Imagine saying this to your employees:
I don’t just expect you to get the work done better…I expect you to be brilliant. I want you to come in every day, giving everything you’ve got. Knowing that at any time, you may be asked to leave. Because we won’t need your skills and talents anymore, or because we’re replacing you with someone more skilled and more talented.
This speech may seem like a way to destroy a company rather than build it. Especially today, as HR struggles with talent shortages and focuses on positive company cultures.
However, as counterintuitive as this approach seems at first, this could be HR’s new formula for success. This same contrarian approach helped build and continues to propel, Netflix’s dominance in the video streaming market.
Despite the clear message that anyone can get laid off at any time, some of the most talented people in Silicon Valley compete to work there. What’s more, Netflix employees enjoy their work so much, they’re driven to deliver their best work always. And rather than compete against each other as one may assume, they help each other succeed.
To understand how this approach works, we must change how we look at teams. That’s what Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer of Netflix, invites HR professionals and other business leaders to do.
The following are highlights from McCord’s keynote, Lessons from the Top: Why Leaders Need to Push Boundaries, that she recently presented at Upwork’s Work Without Limits™ Executive Summit. Here’s how she helped the audience of Fortune 500 visionaries understand how progressive organizations can get more work done—and get it done better.
BUILD A TEAM, NOT A FAMILY
“What if we created teams of people who enjoyed the company they work for? And these teams did incredible work on time, with other amazing people?” asks McCord, who also helped create the Netflix Culture Deck.
Perhaps you heard some of the most game-changing statements from the Culture Deck. Unapologetic statements like we’re a team, not a family. And Netflix leaders hire, develop, and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position. The Culture Deck challenged traditional workforce beliefs so boldly, it garnered 15 million views. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said it “may be the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley.”
In essence, the deck invites business leaders to think differently about the talent they need. McCord suggests seeing talent “in terms of fungible, flexible, agile groups of people that come together, then disband. Then come together in another group and disband again.”
If you fear this approach may disrupt productivity or innovation, consider this: Hollywood does it when casting for a movie or TV series. Consulting teams do it at the start of each project. So why don’t companies do the same?
FREE YOURSELF FROM WORKPLACE HIERARCHIES
Most companies still function under a traditional workplace hierarchy where the smartest, most powerful, and highest-paid employees are the executives. Below them are the rest of management, followed by full-time employees. Below the employees are flexible talent and other independent contractors.
McCord invites you to look past the hierarchy and see each worker as “different cards in your deck.” Then create organizations that:
- Put all the cards in the deck. Know what talent you have and what you need.
- Figure out what cards you need for the game you’re playing. Know what talent you need, at what skill level, to get the work done.
- Deeply understand what you’re trying to do, then rearrange the teams and the talent to do it.
McCord suggests this constant questioning and rearranging should extend to how individuals think about their careers.
She believes a leader that pushes boundaries should be skilled at having a conversation with people about what the future looks like. They should feel comfortable explaining what skills and experience the company needs to be successful. And most importantly, never be constrained by the amount of work that the company’s current staff can do.
Do whatever it takes to create your ideal deck of players. “If you’re going to build something that has a whole bunch of incremental builds in it, then freelancers might be a critically important part,” says McCord.
“Our job is to design for change”
McCord believes business leaders should push boundaries by testing and playing with new ways of working. What about best practices? McCord shuns best practices saying, “There are no metrics for them. Best practices mean doing what everybody else does. And if the goal of doing something is to remain consistent, think about how low that bar is.”
A leader who designs for change will look at their teams or company from a future perspective. Look six months out into the future and ask yourself:
- What does it look like when it’s amazing?
- What’s occurring then that’s not happening now?
- To create that, what do people need to know (i.e., skills and experience) how to do?
- Who do you have to do it?
Then every quarter, revisit that future vision. Quarterly reviews can help you see the makeup of your teams. And the reviews help you think about what talent you need to reach your vision.
Staying the same is okay too if…
What if the traditional way you’re doing things now works just fine? McCord answers, “It’s okay as long as you have proactively chosen to believe that’s true. Choose it by looking forward, then work back to verify those traditional ways will help your company achieve its future vision. If it does, my blessings. But if it doesn’t, be brave enough to examine the things that you do every day and see whether it’s actually working.”
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